By Matt Stout, Globe Staff | February 22, 2021
CHELSEA — Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey waded into the public debate over coronavirus vaccine distribution Monday, touring a site in this hard-hit city and pressing Governor Charlie Baker to further incorporate equity into how shots are allocated statewide.
“I think equity should have been, and should continue to be, the forefront in the planning. Not only is it a matter of fairness and justice . . . but it’s also key, I think, to public health outcomes,” Healey told reporters in the basement of the vaccination site run by La Colaborativa, a Chelsea nonprofit, and the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center.
“We have a heck of a lot of ground to make up as a state on that,” the Charlestown Democrat said of vaccinating people of color. “We’re playing catch-up here.”
Amid criticism the rollout was moving too slowly, the Baker administration has shifted its approach in recent weeks by increasingly relying on a network of massive facilities equipped to give more shots.
State officials said at the same time they’re still committed to their early goal of ensuring equitable access to the vaccine, including by continuing to provide doses in 20 communities with large Black and Latino populations while halting vaccine shipments to most municipalities.
In Chelsea, the state has provided all the doses the public vaccination site has asked for, or roughly 4,000 per week, said Manny Lopes, president and chief executive of the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, describing the state’s strategy as a “hub-and-spoke” approach between larger and community-based sites.
Healey said the Republican governor’s decision to continue funneling vaccines to communities like Chelsea was the “right move.”
But she said the governor should work more closely with local boards of health, some of whom have felt left in the dark by the state’s shift in planning.
State data as of last week showed the vast majority of residents who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine have been white, accounting for nearly two-thirds, while 9 percent were Black or Latino residents.
“Equity just doesn’t happen with an announcement. It happens with the hard work day after day after day,” Healey said. “It’s about a limited amount of pie and how that’s going to get distributed, OK? I understand that everyone is going to want more for their own locality and the like. But I think, and I would hope, that we could work collectively as a state . . . to figure out the best way to prioritize and allocate.”
Healey’s visit Monday marked one of her most overt efforts to join the public dialogue.
Considered by many in the Democratic Party to be a potential gubernatorial candidate in 2022, she said she chose to hold Monday’s event not because it had a specific nexus to her office’s work but because it’s part of a broad promise from when she first campaigned as attorney general to be the “people’s lawyer.”
“We don’t really let a particular job description define us,” she said. “It’s fundamentally about taking care of people.”
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